March 23, 2023


The Knowing. By Ani Di Franco. Painted by Julia Mathew. Penguin Workshop. $18.99.

     It is wonderful to have a book for young children that, in addition to looking beautiful, teaches them to go beyond surface appearances and look inward to find out the truth about themselves and (by implication) others. This is especially welcome at a time when so many sociopolitical pressures are designed to provide benefits to specific groups because of superficial, appearance-dominated perceptions: because of skin color, for instance, or because of a form of dress or a particular activity. The underlying motivations of those pushing the “use appearance for benefits” approach may be fine, at least some of the time, but they are inherently divisive and frequently self-contradictory – for instance, by stating that people with certain skin colors deserve special treatment while people with certain body types (such as a very high body mass index) should be discussed without reference to physical appearance.

     So The Knowing is a bit of fresh air, thanks to Ani Di Franco writing, for example, “I have a color/ to my hair/ my skin/ my eyes/ but this is not all of who I am.” Julia Mathew’s painted illustrations conjure up a world at once real and existing on the edge of reality, a world in which a glance into a mirror seems to reveal more than a reflection of a young girl’s physical self, while a gaze through a window shows not only the actual outdoors but also scenes from very far away and in many guises.

     However, there is a foundational difficulty with The Knowing that makes the book less inward-eye-opening than it could be. The title refers to some sort of mystical concept that is never explained, never defined, never even discussed in an author’s note for parents, as might be expected at the back of the book. Adults and children alike are left to figure out the title – whose two words are repeated throughout the narrative – for themselves. And this can be frustrating. For example, Di Franco writes, “I have beliefs/and someday those beliefs might change,” but also writes repeatedly that “I can take heart in what’s showing/ knowing it’s all a part of The Knowing.” So somehow The Knowing is an ineffable belief that does not change, even though the girl narrating the book has beliefs that might change, but even if they do, they do not, since “we’re all a part of The Knowing.” The final page’s illustration is inevitable in this context, showing the girl looking toward the horizon where a bright, beautiful sun is just rising or setting – that is, clearly looking toward whatever The Knowing is.

     Of course, it is not necessary to define The Knowing, and some of the poetry inherent in Di Franco’s writing would be diminished if it were more explanatory. But this is not a book for adults – it is a picture book for young children, who are sure to ask what The Knowing means and why the little girl narrator keeps talking about it. That will force adults who read with children to come up with their own explanation of The Knowing – and again, there is nothing wrong with that, assuming Di Franco would be satisfied with having some adults say The Knowing means “God,” others say the phrase means “Nature,” others say it refers to “The Universe,” and others say it has to do with a kind of collective unconscious in which all people are interconnected. And those are just some of the possibilities.

     Mysticism-oriented books for adults tend to make things evanescent and leave exact interpretations to readers, who bring their own gloss to whatever pronouncements are made and interpret the writing in ways that relate to their own lives. Bringing the same approach to a picture book for young children, however, works less well. Di Franco and Mathew are clearly trying to teach something, to show something, to encourage their very young readers to accept that they are more than the sum of their appearance plus their activities and are part of something larger. But by providing so little guidance for kids on this inward, spiritual journey, they are creating a situation in which young readers need to rise well above themselves to feel and analyze what The Knowing means, if they can – or need to turn to grown-ups, who may have their own notions of what The Knowing could be but have no way to be sure if their thoughts parallel those of Di Franco and Mathew. Perhaps this does not matter; perhaps The Knowing is intended only to communicate that one’s skin color, interests, thoughts and accomplishments are not all that is but are merely parts of something greater. If that is the case, so be it. But The Knowing feels like a book that wants to guide young children on a specific path that it never quite delineates.


Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4, reorchestrated by Mahler. ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop. Naxos. $13.99.

Edward German: Symphony No. 2, “Norwich”; Valse Gracieuse; Welsh Rhapsody. National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland conducted by Andrew Penny. Naxos. $13.99.

Bax: Symphonies Nos. 1-7 (complete); In the Faery Hills; The Garden of Fand; November Woods; The Happy Forest; Nympholept; Overture to a Picaresque Comedy; The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew; Into the Twilight; Summer Music; Tintagel. Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by David Lloyd-Jones. Naxos. $46.99 (7 CDs).

     The tendency to think of the composer’s wishes as sacrosanct and the interpreter’s job being to bring forth those wishes as accurately as possible is rather new. For many years – and certainly before the advent of historically informed performance study and practice – it was customary to play music based on what instruments and instrumental complements were available at a given time. So Handel achieved gigantism, Bach became known as a composer for piano, and Strauss waltzes were given by full-scale 100-person orchestras instead of the two dozen performers (sometimes fewer) for which they were conceived. In sensitive hands, adaptations of original compositions could provide a gateway for audiences to experience music in line with their expectations, while they would have turned away from the same works in their original forms. That was Gustav Mahler’s motivation in his many updatings and rearrangements of works from earlier eras: to bring acknowledged masterpieces to audiences that expected to hear them in the aural context to which they were accustomed. Mahler was a master orchestrator and a tireless searcher for older works that he, in his role as conductor, could bring to his audiences. And that is how he came to modify Schumann’s four symphonies for the newer instruments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and for orchestras of average size of about 90-100 instead of those of earlier times (average size 45-50). Marin Alsop and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra offer Schumann’s third and fourth symphonies in Mahler’s reorchestrations on a new Naxos CD, and it is very interesting to hear just how carefully Mahler managed his modifications, even though they would largely be deemed unacceptable in today’s performance practices. Most of Mahler’s alterations can be considered fine-tunings (no pun intended), although the prominence of horns in the “Rhenish” certainly owes something to the later composer: valved horns were a major element in late-Romantic music, including Mahler’s own, but were still in development when Schumann created his symphonies. The most-interesting elements of Mahler’s changes in these two symphonies are in No. 4, which exists in earlier and later versions and has long led to debates about which of those is “better” (however that may be defined). Mahler started with the later version of the symphony (1851) and incorporated some elements from the original that Schumann wrote a decade earlier – a state of affairs that may please no one nowadays but that provides considerable insight into Mahler’s thinking about Schumann and the later composer’s own compositional process. Alsop is not a particularly sensitive or adept conductor in this music – she tends to approach all composers essentially the same way, failing to differentiate important stylistic elements. And she annoyingly intrudes into the music through rather fussy instances of unhelpful rubato, notably in the finale of the “Rhenish” and the first movement of No. 4. But the warm, deep sound of the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra is a pleasure to hear at all times, and the orchestra’s scale certainly reflects Mahler’s expectations for his versions of these symphonies. There is no reason to own Alsop’s recordings of the Schumann/Mahler symphonies as a first choice in this repertoire today, but it is fascinating to hear – as a supplement to more-authentic performances – how Mahler managed to cast these works in a new light while remaining true to their basic character.

     A composer of Mahler’s time who also brought some elements of rethinking to symphonic form – but who, unlike Mahler, is not thought of as a symphonist – was Edward German, best known by far (to the extent that he is remembered at all) for his theatrical works. German was more of an experimentalist in non-programmatic music than he tends to be given credit for: his Welsh Rhapsody of 1904 is essentially a symphony in miniature (19 minutes) that is built entirely on traditional Welsh tunes, which German arranges and harmonizes and modifies and connects in genuinely symphonic ways that result in what is essentially a four-movement piece in which the melodies – sometimes complete and sometimes as fragments – are very cleverly developed and juxtaposed with secondary material created by German himself. In the new Naxos recording of the Welsh Rhapsody – actually a re-release of a performance dating to 1994 – Andrew Penny fully explores the symphonic nature of the material, giving it appropriate scale that stops short of grandeur or grandiosity but still makes it much more than a simple collection of folk-tune arrangements. And the disc also includes one of the two works that German really did label as symphonies: his second, known as the “Norwich” and dating to 1893. This is a larger-scale work than the Welsh Rhapsody and not quite as successful a piece: it goes through all the motions of a symphony adeptly and features some particularly skillful orchestration, but it never seems quite sure whether it wants to be taken highly seriously or prefers to be considered in a somewhat lighter vein – the third movement, Allegro scherzando, is certainly perkier than the remainder of the work. German’s two relatively unsuccessful symphonies (the first was written in 1887 and revised in 1890) led him to devote himself thereafter to non-symphonic endeavors – a disappointment to the composer himself, but actually a decision that led him to think symphonically about material, including the elements of the Welsh Rhapsody, that in other hands would scarcely have emerged in symphony-like form. Nevertheless, German is today thought of as a stage composer and purveyor of lighter classical music – and the third piece offered by Penny and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland shows why. The Valse Gracieuse (1895/1915), originally part of a four-movement work called The Leeds Suite, is quick and gracious, not really danceable despite its title, and contains some developmental elements of a near-symphonic sort, making German’s work in this respect more akin to the waltzes of Josef Strauss than to those of Johann Jr. German’s orchestration is particularly felicitous – he had considerable skill in instrumentation, if not at Mahler’s level – and the piece serves as a somewhat light, somewhat symphonic work that seems to straddle the worlds of slight and serious music without firmly committing to either. The same, in fact, may be said of German’s music as a whole.

     Arnold Bax (1883-1953) was of a later generation than German (1862-1936), and is much less associated with stage and lighter music – but in the symphonic realm, Bax had some sensibilities akin to those shown by German in works such as Welsh Rhapsody. Bax too was fascinated by legends of the British Isles, although Bax was from a wealthy cosmopolitan background while German traced his roots to Wales (the G in his name is a hard G; the name itself derives from “Gorman”). Bax completed seven symphonies, all of them rather substantial even though all are in three movements; but much of his work was in tone poems, which drew on a wide variety of legends and sylvan scenes – all treated in distinctly symphonic ways. A significant Naxos re-release of recordings of all the Bax symphonies and 10 of his tone poems – including the best-known, Tintagel – shows how Bax treated symphonic form quite differently from other British composers of his time (notably Elgar and Vaughan Williams) and also shows the clear relationships between Bax’s thinking in his pictorial tone painting and in his abstract symphonic music. The recordings featuring David Lloyd-Jones and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra date to 1995-2002. Lloyd-Jones has clearly thought carefully about this music and has brought its sometimes sprawling outlines under firm control. The symphonies were written during a comparatively compressed time span, with the first dating to 1921-22 and No. 7 to 1938-39 – Bax wrote almost nothing during or after World War II. Symphony No. 1 ties the most directly to external events – the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916 – but it is more a personal response to circumstances than a delineation of them or a setting of them in a symphonic context. In terms of incorporating external influences directly into the symphonies, Bax turned most often to the sea, which he frequently portrayed in his tone poems as well: Symphony No. 4 is particularly oceanic. Bax also reinterpreted other influences: Symphony No. 5 is dedicated to Sibelius and clearly shaped in part by the Finnish composer’s music, especially in Bax’s handling of brass, while Symphony No. 7 draws on Celtic influences. But nowhere did Bax incorporate folk material directly into his symphonic productions: he produced non-programmatic symphonies that drew on but were not subsumed within various myths and legends of Britain and nearby lands. In his symphonically structured and carefully developed tone poems, however, he delved directly and deeply into mythic Britain. Most of the tone poems are comparatively early works: In the Faery Hills dates to 1909 (revised 1921); The Garden of Fand – a seascape in its own right – is from 1913-16; November Woods was written in 1917; The Happy Forest is from 1914-21; Nympholept – the title refers to being caught and enraptured by nymphs – is from 1912-15; Into the Twilight dates to 1908; and Tintagel – yet another sea-inspired work, and an especially impressive one – is from 1917-19. The three remaining tone poems heard in this re-release are somewhat later: Summer Music was put into final form in 1932, although it originally dates to 1921; The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew, a particularly atmospheric and evanescent work, is from 1931; and Overture to a Picaresque Comedy, a brighter and livelier work than is typical of Bax, is from 1930. Like German, Bax had considerable skill in orchestration, but he also made demands on performers that can make his works hard to mount: he tended to call for very large orchestras that could give works highly specific colors – a darkness through the use of multiple low instruments, for example – but that could easily overwhelm musicians and audiences alike. Symphony No. 1, for example, insists on (among other instruments) four flutes (two doubling piccolo and bass flute), cor anglais, heckelphone or bass oboe, four clarinets plus a bass clarinet, a double-bass sarrusophone or double bassoon, tuba, two harps, and percussion including gong, glockenspiel, celesta and xylophone. Bax’s handling of his monumental forces tends to be closer to the massing of Richard Strauss than the chamber-music delicacy of Mahler, and the Bax symphonies and tone poems (which also require large forces) can all too easily come across as clotted with sound. It is to the considerable credit of Lloyd-Jones and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra that they allow Bax’s massive elements all the weight the composer wanted while effectively contrasting those portions of the symphonies and tone poems with passages of quiet beauty (Bax often ended works quietly, with a feeling of subsiding into silence). Bax’s symphonic works lack the monumentality of Elgar’s and the intensity of Vaughan Williams’. But they are very effective as presented in this boxed set, and offer an unusual opportunity to experience an approach to 20th-century symphonic construction that is not often encountered in the concert hall, where Bax’s symphonies – undoubtedly in part because of the sheer scale of their requirements – remain a rarity.


Mozart: 9 Variations on a Minuet by Jean-Pierre Duport, K. 573; Beethoven: 7 Variations on “God Save the King,” WoO 78; 6 Variations on an original theme in F, Op. 34; Mendelssohn: Variations sérieuses, Op. 54; Brahms: Variations in F-sharp minor, Op. 9. Sarah Beth Briggs, piano. AVIE. $17.99.

Bruce Wolosoff: Music for Solo Piano. Bruce Wolosoff, piano. AVIE. $17.99.

Dorothy Hindman: To Spill Oneself Away; Alican Çamci: …with the sound of a ripe fruit—falling…; Andrea Mazzariello: As Far As You Can Stretch a Web; Your Hands, As They Are; Takuma Itoh: Intermezzo; Kirsten Soriano: Echoes; Paul Dresher: Blue Diamonds. Matthew McCright, piano. Proper Canary. $10.                 

     There are many ways for pianists to make recitals or recordings their own, including through choice of repertoire that reflects their own particular musical interests. That is Sarah Beth Briggs’ chosen approach on a first-rate new AVIE recording that could be called “variations on variations,” since these five works interpret the notion of “variations” in significantly different ways. Indeed, it is through bringing out the composers’ differing approaches that Briggs makes the music her own, even though all four composers heard on the CD are quite familiar. Variations have filled numerous roles in classical music, ranging from that of clever alteration of a basic tune to that of sheer virtuosic display. The cleverness is what comes through in Briggs’ choice of works and style of performance. Mozart’s 9 Variations on a Minuet by Jean-Pierre Duport is a fairly late work (1789) based on a graceful but not especially notable theme, written by cellist Jean-Pierre Duport. Briggs neatly calls forth the increasing playfulness that Mozart brings to these variations as he makes Duport’s tune more and more elaborate. A kind of stuttering effect that anticipates the Papageno-Papagena duet in Die Zauberflöte is a highlight – and so is the comparative depth of the one minor-key element: a variation in the minor toward the end of a set was a standard element of compositions in this form for quite a long time. Mozart’s grace is contrasted to the somewhat different form of expansion and alteration in Beethoven’s 7 Variations on “God Save the King,” after which a second Beethoven variation work shows a more-innovative approach. This is 6 Variations on an original theme in F, in which not only the theme but also the key structure is varied in surprising ways: each variation is in a key a third below the prior one, creating a sense of abrupt color changes in the music in a way that looks ahead to Schubert. Beethoven’s approach here gives each variation a strong sense of individuality, and it is to Briggs’ credit that she explores that element of the work while also tying the pieces together into a satisfying whole. Similar satisfaction is on offer in Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses, a work of greater complexity than those by Mozart and Beethoven. Mendelssohn creates a highly chromatic theme reflecting the Romantic era, but employs it in forms looking back to the Baroque, including toccata and fugue. He also has one variation in which the melody is heard in the middle voice, which is set against bass and treble lines – not quite the “three-hand” effect for which Thalberg became famous, but something along those lines, although Mendelssohn specifically emphasized the seriousness of his variations to set them apart from the “display pieces” often constructed in variation form and featured in recitals by Thalberg and other virtuoso performers. The final and longest work offered by Briggs, Brahms’ Variations in F-sharp minor, is also a highly serious piece – and a highly moving one as well, using an emotive theme from Schumann’s Bunte Blätter and extending it into realms of greater emotional upheaval before concluding not in triumph but with a kind of stoicism. Following this work’s expressive arc skillfully while keeping the 21-minute piece sounding unified and carefully knitted together, Briggs shows that she finds the variation form itself to be varied, involving, and pianistically satisfying both to perform and to hear.

     A different approach to personalizing one’s relationship to the piano involves writing one’s own music for the instrument and then recording it. That is how Bruce Wolosoff (born 1955) handles matters on another new AVIE release. The 10 works of his that he plays here are in a wide variety of styles that in some cases look back to earlier times (Improvisation on a Ground by Henry Purcell) and in others seem grounded more in pop music than in anything Purcellian (Morning Song). Some pieces offer delicacy (Siempre), some present tone paintings (After the Rain), and some create a rather surprising juxtaposition of styles (Dido’s Blues, another work that looks back to Purcell but also has the feeling of “blues” in the jazz sense; City Lights, which mixes boogie-woogie riffs with the sort of rhythmic complexity in which many modern composers indulge). Also here are the rather cinematically dark Memento; the serious and somewhat didactic Letter to a Friend, whose hesitant beginning leads to increasing musical and emotional complexity; and The Lotus Eaters, which is a touch overly delicate in its quiet and slow evocation of hallucinations. The final piece on the CD is the four-movement Night Paintings, a response to works by David Salle, Edvard Munch, Vincent Van Gogh, and Margaret Garrett (Wolosoff’s wife). These are pleasant pieces – indeed, everything on the CD is pleasant – and there is a certain exploratory nature to their interpretative nuances that takes them beyond the realm of salon music, into which many of the other works on the disc may be said to fit. Indeed, there is overarching gentleness in most of Wolosoff’s piano music on this CD, with the result that the occasional more-upbeat and quicker works (such as the second of the Night Paintings) come as something of a relief. Wolosoff’s personal relationship with the piano is that of a composer/performer who wants to establish specific emotional connections with the audience and who fine-tunes his playing to evoke those feelings as precisely as possible. The downside to this (+++) CD is that it is somewhat indulgent, in fact over-indulgent, tending to wallow in a set of emotional expressions that are somewhat narrow in scope even though Wolosoff draws on a wide variety of influences to create the music expressing them. The playing is quite fine, and the intent to connect with listeners is most welcome. But Wolosoff connects again and again (and yet again) in much the same emotional territory, with the result that the CD as a whole has a kind of delicate, dreamy quality that is evaporative where the emotions are concerned: instead of reinforcing them through multiple explorations, Wolosoff tends to protest and profess too much, resulting in a whole disc that is less than the sum of its individual parts.

     Even without composing one’s own music, a contemporary pianist can seek out modern works reflective of a particular sensibility that the performer wants to communicate through pianism. This is the form of personal expression sought by Matthew McCright on a Proper Canary CD featuring seven works by six of today’s composers. If Wolosoff’s music is mostly quiet and dreamy, McCright’s – not his own, but the music he uses to represent himself on this disc – is generally darker and more explicitly contemporary in its harmonies and rhythms. Dorothy Hindman’s To Spill Oneself Away (2021) juxtaposes constant tinkling runs in the piano’s upper register with contrasting sounds from various portions of the keyboard, producing a feeling of uncertainty. Alican Çamci’s …with the sound of a ripe fruit—falling… (which dates to 2021 and whose original Turkish title also includes ellipses at the start and finish) is a kind of athematic, determinedly dissonant brief étude. Andrea Mazzariello is represented by two works: the five-movement As Far As You Can Stretch a Web (2019) and single-movement Your Hands, As They Are (2021). The first of these offers five different sorts of piano sounds in short movements intended both to have personal resonance and to explore piano possibilities (the first, third and fifth are all designated Prelude in one way or another). The concluding Preludes, folded seems to strive most strongly for meaning beyond the notes. Your Hands, As They Are is so quiet throughout as to be almost silent, requiring active listening to try to extract the music’s progress and meaning. Takuma Itoh’s Intermezzo (2010) is also a soft, minimalist work that drifts rather aimlessly to a fade-out. Kirsten Soriano’s Echoes (2010) begins as yet another exercise in quietude but features some chordal emphases that provide contrast. The CD concludes with its longest work, Blue Diamonds (1995) by Paul Dresher. This too starts in minimalist mode, but becomes increasingly intricate (if thoroughly athematic) as it explores highly contrasting sounds created by juxtaposing widely differing portions of the keyboard and quickly changing rhythms. The piece is scarcely wholly convincing – it sounds too much like too many other avowedly modernistic works – but it offers some of the most engaging material on this disc. This (+++) CD is quite clearly reflective of McCright’s valuation of the piano as an expressive instrument and of the ways in which contemporary composers and compositions take advantage of pianistic possibilities. But most of the works here are simply not very interesting in and of themselves: they partake of specific modern sensibilities that McCright obviously finds resonant in terms of his own personality, but only listeners already predisposed to hear and feel this material as McCright does will likely find the disc a worthwhile experience.

March 16, 2023


100 Mighty Dragons All Named Broccoli. By David LaRochelle. Illustrations by Lian Cho. Dial. $19.99.

     You have never seen a counting book quite like this, because there has never been a counting book quite like thus. Forget all that one-to-10 stuff and then 10-back-to-one. Forget those neat little additions and subtractions that kids can easily learn and adults can leave kids alone on their own to enjoy. Oh no, parents: get ready to give your mathematical abilities a bit of a workout with 100 Mighty Dragons All Named Broccoli. And get your laughter-producing muscles ready, too, because wow, are you going to need them.

     David LaRochelle has crafted a book so clever, so utterly silly and absurd, so delightful and so engaging – and has been so well abetted by illustrator Lian Cho – that kids and adults alike need to set aside plenty of time to read and reread and delight in the whole thing, far beyond any reasonable expectation for a work that runs a mere 36 pages. Scratch that “mere,” though, since there is nothing “mere” about what LaRochelle and Cho have produced. The book’s title gets everything started: why in heaven’s name are all the dragons named Broccoli? This is never explained – but it makes for an eventual twist ending that readers will not see coming and that gives Cho an opportunity to display amazing illustrative virtuosity.

     And what about that nice even number, 100? Well, it’s a big number for the young people at whom the book is targeted – but wait, there’s more! The very first thing that happens is a fraction, as half the dragons get blown away from their home “high on a mountain near a deep dark cave.” Well, no worries: LaRochelle helpfully explains that if half the 100 disappear, there are 50 left. Still a nice even number, right? But not for long! A little later, when only 40 Broccoli dragons remain, two form a heavy metal band in New York City, so now there are 38. Wait…38? What’s an out-of-nowhere number like that doing in a book for young kids? The same thing as 34, which is how many dragons are left after one becomes a unicorn, one a werewolf, one a zombie, and one “a tiny pink poodle.” And then we march on to the number 22, and then the dragons wearing sunglasses “flew to France,” and LaRochelle does not even say how many of those there are – just that there are 13 left after the Parisian departure. You figure it out.

     All this gets increasingly confusing and almost unbearably delightful. LaRochelle even plays tricks on readers, for instance by saying that “all the dragons wearing ballerina tutus flew to Sweden” and having it turn out, on the next page, that there were no dragons wearing ballerina tutus. So now we have the number zero lurking in the book. And then we have addition and subtraction mixed and remixed, as when “5 dragons took a rocket to the moon” while “2 of the dragons from West Virginia returned.”

     This goes on and on and on, with far more intricacy and complexity than LaRochelle has any right to pack into a picture book. The numbers actually become hard to follow (ok, not that hard, but hard by the standards of kids’ books). But they all make sense at the very, very end of the book, when the total number of dragons has been reduced to zero but then magically returns to 100 – actually 101 – and as for “all named Broccoli,” that is a resounding no way as the book finishes with an artistic flourish that is not only hilarious but also guaranteed to have kids and adults alike examining every one of the new crop of dragons very carefully to figure out the relationship between each one and its name (hint: in some cases there is no relationship).

     The whole “mighty dragons” notion is part of the joke here, since there is nothing mighty about any of the sunglass-wearing, non-tutu-wearing dragons; nothing fearsome at all about a dragon that turns into a tiny pink poodle (only to reappear later re-transformed into a dragon). The whole “all named Broccoli” thing is another element of amusement, in light of what happens at the book’s conclusion. Cho’s amazing ability to create so many different-looking, different-acting dragons is just as remarkable in its own way as LaRochelle’s outré sense of humor is in its way. Cho tosses in little “eyeball kicks” (a term originating in the old Mad magazine) that have nothing to do with the story but enhance it enormously – check out the three dragons in a row wearing roller skates near the end, or the five playing instruments whose musical notes float onto a different page and get into the illustrations of three non-musical dragons. Oh – and take a look at the uniforms of the three dragons that “boarded a bus to Wisconsin to play football for the Green Bay Packers.” (Look at the expressions on members of the opposing team while you’re at it.) The numbering, the naming, the picturing, the posing, the ups and downs and sideways machinations and cityscapes and bizarre activities (10 of the dragons “became professional surfers in Hawaii”), the colors and the cuteness and the number of details to be found both in the writing and in the visualization of 100 Mighty Dragons All Named Broccoli all combine into a picture book that really is like no other. For that matter, each of the dragons is like no other – even when their names are inexplicably identical. This is a book that celebrates imaginative thinking in just about every way possible, and even the most mathematically challenged grownup who is privileged to explore it with a child will pretty much have to give it a “1-2-3-HURRAY!” rating. Or, heck, maybe “22-13-34-HURRAY!”